Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peace Bug
by Stephen L. Antczak

Shipping Error
by Robert Dawson

In the Garden With the Little Eaters
by L Chan

Species of Revenge
by Lance J. Mushung

To Live if it Kills Me
by Andrew Darlington

Freddy Norberg’s Fantastic Flight
by Finry

Death Egg
by Kim Daniels

by Sean Monaghan

Shorter Stories

Love in the Time of Alien Invasion
by Samuel Marzioli

They Call Me Wizard
by Robert Lowell Russell

Reverse Logic
by Sierra July


Let’s Fry Chicken Little
by Carol Kean

UFOs and Rockets
by Preston Dennett



Comic Strips




Species of Revenge

By Lance J. Mushung

MY BRAIN SEEMED TO BE POUNDING its way out of my skull and I wondered how the bunk had become so cold and hard. I turned my head toward a soft moan and opened my eyes even though my eyelids could have doubled as lead weights. The chest of a naked woman faced me. I was also naked and my brow furrowed as I tried to piece together what had happened.

Someone with a commanding voice shouted, “Sit up.”

I did. The compartment definitely wasn’t my cabin on the star liner Mira Furlan. It was painted institutional baby-puke green and about fifty nude men and women were on the deck with me. I deduced we were the crew and passengers of the Furlan based on the faces in sight.

Hard-looking men and women dressed in rusty-red jumpsuits and carrying nerve tinglers moved through us. They kept repeating the order to sit up. Not everyone heeded and the tinglers came into play. Occasional screams suggested they’d been set to an intense level.

A woman passed by and I said, “What’s going on?”

She stopped and glared at me with a scornful look that said I should have kept my mouth closed. “Shut up. You’ll find out soon enough.”

She punctuated her order by bending down and slapping my face. The hard slap was a tonic for my mind and the only plausible explanation came to me. We were in the hands of pirates and no longer onboard the Furlan. When I spotted two large, blocky, navy-blue transports through a hatch, I had confirmation. Mira Furlan had no bay large enough to hold both.

A tall, striking woman with long orange-red hair, wearing an elegant black pantsuit strode into the compartment. She would have looked at home in any corporate boardroom except for the energy pulse pistol holstered on her left hip. After stopping in front of me, she looked us over for a few seconds with a smirk on her face.

The woman’s demeanor broadcast confidence and arrogance, and her voice managed to convey smugness and superiority. “Good morning. I’m Captain Anne Bonney. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”

I had, and the sharp intakes of breath around me said many had. It wasn’t surprising. She was a notorious pirate with the reputation of being cold and ruthless, even by pirate standards.

Anne paused for a second with a satisfied grin replacing her smirk. “I see you know who I am. We’re one hop from a planet I’ve named Mushroom due to its delightfully steamy climate. It’s unknown to the Alliance. The natives are called Pockwattels and you’ll be residents with them soon. Don’t worry about your clothes. You won’t need many on Mushroom, just as you wouldn’t on a tropical vacation back home. The Pockwattels will give you skirts, or kilts if you men prefer to think of them that way. Right now I wouldn’t want any of you to try to hide a weapon. For example, this auburn-haired hunk in front of me is Marine Lieutenant Robert Neville.”

I said, “son of a bitch,” under my breath. There’d be no surprising them with my combat training.

“Moving on, you should still feel a bit loopy from the anesthetic we used. You probably haven’t noticed yet your brain implants can’t link to the mesh.”

She paused as if wanting to give us a chance to test what she’d said. I thought to my implant. It wouldn’t link. The dejected facial expressions on those around me said theirs couldn’t either.

Anne smiled, no doubt about our expressions, and resumed her narrative. “Several functions of your implants were disabled, mainly the ability to form a mesh link. On the other hand, I’ve loaded the Pockwattel language and information about your new home into it. So, why are you here? I, and my associates, traded you for a crop—”

A man to my left interrupted Anne by yelling, “I’m Jean-Pierre Beaucage and you can’t do this to—”

Jean-Pierre fell silent as a faint hum filled the compartment. His chin dropped to his chest as if he’d fallen asleep and I caught a whiff of charred flesh. Anne had drawn her EPP in a smooth swift motion and burned a hole through his forehead. She raised her eyebrows and lowered her chin. The people around Jean-Pierre responded with dead silence and horrified expressions. The cowed reactions must have satisfied her because she holstered the weapon again.

“As I was saying, I trade people like you for a pharmaceutical that grows here. It’s difficult to synthesize. You’ll participate in games put on by the Pockwattels to please Cocowattel, their Harvest Goddess. Cocowattel requires ritual couplings by the strongest and most fit individuals as a fertility rite to ensure a good harvest. You’ll fight each other and aliens in single combat, basically gladiatorial contests, to determine the strongest and most fit. Good luck.”

She took a step, but then halted as if she’d forgotten something. “A word of advice. Don’t attempt to run off after landing. The Pockwattels don’t like to meet non-captive aliens. It makes them feel inferior. But they are there, as you’ll see after the transport leaves.”

Anne swept out of the compartment and we were forced onto a transport for the flight to Mushroom. Almost everyone looked terrified. Some sobbed. Others whispered and held hands in an attempt to comfort each other.

I used the time to study the information added to my implant. Mushroom was more or less Earthlike with a little less gravity, a little longer day, and a little like the Amazon. Images of the Pockwattels suggested termites the size of large dogs covered in iridescent blue and green scales. They had rodent faces, six legs, two arms, and four fingers per hand. Both sexes looked the same, except the females were much smaller than the males.


The thump of landing pulled my attention from the information. The transport’s ramp opened to a cloudless blue sky. The atmosphere was an overheated sauna that hit me in the face like a wet steaming towel. And it was a smelly sauna. Scents of rot and corruption assailed my nose.

Four pirates herded us down the ramp toward a few huts and a corral with an attached barn. All were constructed from a pale wood that resembled pine, much of it discolored by green-black stains from mold and mildew. What looked like square bales of golden brown hay or straw had been stacked in a lean-to near the barn. A swamp of tall grass and mushroom-topped trees with gray bark surrounded the area. All the foliage had an unhealthy-looking, yellow-green color.

Off the ramp, I wiggled my toes in red dirt, which turned out to be squishy like firm mud. A hot sun, a bit more orange than Sol, beat down on me. No breeze stirred the air and sweat began rolling down my forehead and dripping off my nose.

The transport lifted off and disappeared from view in seconds. Most watched it depart the way people in a life raft watch the only ship in sight sail away.

I muttered, “Some tropical vacation spot.”

I overheard a woman say, “This reminds me of the Big Thicket in East Texas on Earth.”

A man answered in a disgusted tone. “Yeah, and it smells like a turd, too.”

About thirty Pockwattels armed with bows emerged from the grass and gestured us onto the powdery white sand in the corral. Another Pockwattel left a hut and approached at a slow pace. His scales weren’t as shiny as those of the others and he dragged a limp leg. My intuition said “old.”

He studied us from the corral’s fence for almost a minute before speaking. “I am Trainer. You will practice here for several days and then join the rest of the combatants in the city for the games. You will be fed morning and evening and sleep in the dormitory by the corral.”

Without warning Trainer pointed at Julio, one of the passengers I knew. Several guards loosed arrows into him and he dropped on the spot. My fellow captives all seemed stunned. It dawned on me in seconds. Trainer had demonstrated how little our lives were worth. Julio had been picked at random.

Trainer resumed his address, giving the impression he’d done no more than squash a bug. “You will spar with wooden practice weapons. I will call regular breaks. You will get a new sparring partner after each break. You will now get coverings and weapons, and then begin. I wish to see if any of you have skill.”

The Pockwattels gave us pale green wraps like kilts, a shield, a sword with scabbard on a cloth belt, and a spear. The shield was a squared wooden oval with a V-shaped metal band fitted around its perimeter. The sword suggested a shortened broadsword with a hilt suitable for one or two-handed use. The two-meter-long spear reminded me of the staffs and pugil sticks I’d used during my training.

We were paired using a scheme understood only by Trainer. Shani, a tall woman who looked like a runner with her strong legs and skinny arms, became my partner. She held her weapons the way people hold an odious animal. She needed a teacher more than a sparring partner, and lucky for her I could be both.

She said during the first break, “Thanks for the lesson.” She neither sounded nor looked thankful.

“No problem. You did pretty well. You need to work on your upper-body strength though. I suggest push-ups and pull-ups as often as possible.”

Each of my sparring partners was on a par with Shani. I therefore had no trouble keeping an eye on other pairs and soon spotted two people with potential. One was Kasumi, an athletic woman of average height. She had a pretty face and black hair streaked with royal blue highlights cut in a pixie style. She moved with the grace and suppleness of a dancer while using her sword like a samurai. The other was an almost two-meter tall, bald, barrel-chested man. He’d been one of the crew and I remembered his name tag had said Ian. Belying his size and strength, he glided with the effortless ease of a jungle cat. And he shrugged off hits as if they were meaningless. Anybody fighting him hand-to-hand would be in trouble.

Dark clouds rolled in and Trainer called a break just as the heavens opened up. Warm rain rushed down like opening the sluice gates of a dam, and in seconds everything more than a few meters away turned almost invisible. As I hunkered down, a nasty thought came to me. I believed we would fight life and death battles. When others came to grips with that truth, they wouldn’t need much time to decide their odds would be better without me around. I’d be strangled while sleeping or find a shiv shoved through my ribs while taking a dump. I needed allies, a team, people who would watch out for me and each other.

When the deluge ended, I approached Kasumi with a toothy grin. “I’ve never been under a waterfall before.”

“It was quite a downpour. You’d think it would have cooled the air. But no, it’s as hot as ever.”

“I’m not sure anything could cool this place. I admire your skill with a sword. How did you learn, if you didn’t mind me asking?”

“I’ve studied Kendo for years as part of my exercise program.”

“May we speak privately during the next break?”

She nodded yes with a “why not?” expression on her face. I next approached Ian on the other side of the corral. His face had the dour look of someone who’d just as soon kick your balls than play ball. He turned away when I said “hi.” I didn’t push it. During the next break Kasumi and I both went over to him. He didn’t turn away, and we found a quiet spot in the corral. A pretty face and chest had been effective.

I spoke to them as an officer addressing his troops. “We’re the best fighters. It won’t take long for the others to decide they stand a better chance without us. They’ll band together and ambush us some night. We should be a team to protect each other.”

Kasumi looked thoughtful. “Why should I help you? Wouldn’t I also be better off with you gone?”

“True. But you know we’ll be put in with more combatants later. It’s unlikely we’ll have to fight each other in the games, at least not until the end. We won’t get to the end on our own.”

Kasumi and Ian looked at each other and both nodded yes. What I’d said might have been crap. Who knew or cared? I had a team.


We entered the dorm when the sun sank below the horizon. Several people looked as if they wanted to ask Mommy to make it all stop.

Kasumi called out. “Ian, Robert, dinner is served.”

Ian asked, “What have we got?” He sounded excited, and it was the first complete sentence he’d spoken.

“We’ve got what I’m calling bread, fruit, and two types of vegetables. I sampled the fruit and it’s pretty good, sort of like really sweet cantaloupe.”

We loaded square wooden plates with coarse brown bread, chartreuse chunks of the fruit, and both yellow and green vegetable pods. Ian and I tore into dinner like savages who hadn’t eaten in days. Then again, we were dirty, smelly, sitting on the floor, and eating with our hands. We were savages.

Kasumi watched us wide-eyed for a short time before speaking with good-natured sarcasm. “Why don’t you two just put the plates to your mouths and pour it in.”

Ian gave her a dismissive shrug and continued shoveling. I switched to a more civilized style of eating; she flashed a demure smile. It changed her face from pretty to gorgeous. I had no doubt many men had been reduced to quivering jelly by the mere appearance of her smile, and I’d have been among them in less dismal circumstances.

Ian’s nose wrinkled and a frown appeared on his face. “Damn, this thing tastes like asparagus.”

I grinned. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you to eat your vegetables?”

Kasumi rewarded my weak attempt at humor with a brief giggle. Ian grunted.

We made a quick survey of the dorm following dinner with the aid of the dim illumination provided by small oil lamps. The plain floors and walls were made from the ubiquitous wood. The outside walls had no openings other than the single door leading to the corral. Stall-like cubicles containing straw-like material lined the walls. A central atrium open to the sky allowed light and air in. The head in the back held a toilet trough, a large tub of water, and sponge-like scrubbers on a shelf.

Ian picked a cubicle for us and we plopped down into the straw. Noises from the swamp had started with the darkness. The whistles, snorts, roars, and screeches were cautionary sounds to me. Whatever was out there might be benign to humans, but that wasn’t what the smart money said.

Kasumi said in a cheery tone, “It’s noisy, but there don’t seem to be any mosquitoes.”

I laughed and Ian grunted. Soon afterwards my companions managed to go to sleep. I didn’t. I couldn’t clear my mind.

How had all of it started? The Pockwattels couldn’t have thought of using aliens in their games on their own. Some pirate, perhaps Anne Bonney herself, had probably stumbled across Mushroom and started the entire mess. It all seemed so improbable. Yet, the galaxy was vast and even improbable things happen.

I wondered about a revolt? Would anyone follow if I started one? My fellow captives didn’t look like death-before-dishonor types. Then again, was I? Could I slip away myself? I didn’t know the lay of the land and couldn’t blend in with the locals. How many things were good to eat? What was dangerous? Would the Pockwattels go all out tracking me down? The best plan seemed to be biding my time.


The next seven days were filled with sparring, brightened only by Kasumi’s cheerfulness. That disappeared when I suggested she also practice with the spear and shield. She assured me over and over all she needed was a sword. I stopped mentioning it after a couple of days.

The eighth day was different. We assembled around the perimeter of the corral first thing in the morning. Trainer selected Simon and Dhruv, provided real weapons, and told them to fight until one died. Being two of our weakest fighters, they circled each other making half-hearted thrusts for over a minute. Neither would take firm action. Trainer pointed at both and the guards killed them with a flurry of arrows.

Trainer said, “You must fight well.”

As Simon and Dhruv were dragged away, Trainer selected Ling and Udo. They picked up the weapons and fought with much more enthusiasm than the two before. After a minute, Ling lay on the ground with Udo standing over him. Trainer made a throat-cutting gesture. Udo was supposed to kill her opponent, but hesitated to do so. Arrows riddled her while Ling was spared.

Trainer explained. “You will kill when ordered to do so. Only the marshal can grant life to a vanquished foe. You will now go to the city.”

We traveled along a path like a herd of cattle surrounded by guards. In less than an hour we reached a city of one-story wood buildings and dirt streets. A few minutes winding through the streets brought us to a large stadium. We walked through its framework into the central arena.

The arena was an oval about twenty-five meters long at its widest. Stands that could accommodate many thousands of spectators rose at a steep pitch on all sides. There must have been a hundred guards with bows stationed along the perimeter. We wouldn’t be getting into the stands.

A group of humans and aliens waited at the far end. Kasumi whispered to me. “Look at those two big bastards.”

The two big bastards were Glones, a species I’d encountered before. They were large and strong aliens with the face and floppy ears of a bunny. They looked humanoid except they had four arms. Their upper arms were human-like, but thespecies lower ones were pincers they could use like rapiers. On their native cold planet, they had pale blue fur, but had shaved it off, down to their sunflower yellow skin.

I said to Kasumi and Ian, “It’s interesting that they’re hermaphrodites and can be either sex.”

Kasumi answered in a tone that made it clear it wasn’t interesting to her. “Not very important.”

Ian pointed. “What are those?”

Five small aliens stood behind fourteen humans. I’d missed them when we came in. My first impression was centipede.

Kasumi said, “Check your implants for Embores.”

An Embore resembled five or six small Dachshunds connected end-to-end and covered with brown feathers accented by orange stripes. They had eighteen short legs and six stubby arms, each tipped with a three-fingered hand.

A Pockwattel with the same dull scales like Trainer came to us. “I am Commandant. Many of you will be selected for the games starting tomorrow. The rest will participate in later ones. You will spar for me now.”

I didn’t need to watch the Glones to understand the threat they represented. The bigger one was at least two-and-a-half meters tall while the other matched Ian’s height. One of the humans from the first group told me the biggest one was called Bluto and the other Trixie, based on what their true names sounded like. Their only major weakness was limited endurance in heat because they didn’t have an efficient body cooling method, as their rapid panting demonstrated.

Although I had a feeling many of the others were hiding their best moves, it took little time to realize one of the Embores was dangerous. People had decided she was female and named her Slinky. She moved like lightning, even compared to the other Embores. Her handicap, as with all of her species, was limited reach. As for the original group of humans, five looked as if they could fight.

Dusk was an hour away when Commandant picked the combatants for the games. Kasumi, Ian, and I were among the twenty-seven humans selected. Both Glones and three Embores, one of whom was Slinky, rounded out the group.


We spent the night in a dorm like the one we’d left. The matches began in the morning. Body after body was dragged away to the sound of loud clicking, the Pockwattel equivalent of clapping and cheering.

Late in the morning I had my first match. Thousands of silent Pockwattels watched me from the stands as I entered the arena. It was eerie how quiet they were before a match. My opponent, a man named Mukhtar, came in across from me. He posed little threat, but I knew better than to take anyone lightly. I inhaled slow, deep breaths and concentrated on him, blocking everything else from my attention.

The marshal shouted “fight.” Mukhtar and I circled each other. I feigned attacks three times and he only defended each time. He made no aggressive moves. He was being too conservative while hoping I’d make a mistake. I sprang forward and our shields contacted with a loud thud. He stumbled backward. I stabbed low and my spear sliced off his left toes. He screamed and his blood streamed out to color the sand. I pushed him hard with my shield and he went down on his back. He trembled and his eyes registered pure terror as I towered over him. The marshal made the throat-cutting gesture. I whispered, “I’m sorry,” and plunged my spear through his heart. Blood sprayed on me and the sand while the clicking became louder and louder. I gritted my teeth. I’d entertained them, the bastards.


We had a somber evening. Kasumi and Ian had both killed for the first time. Kasumi sat rocking in a corner with her knees pulled to her chest. Ian had a stony look on his face and was even more taciturn than usual. I left them alone. I’d told them before we had no choice, we weren’t killing with malice, that it was pure survival. I fantasized about what I’d do if I ever got back to Earth. My favorite was returning with a battle force and blasting all Pockwattels into toasted treats for the local wildlife to feast upon.

The next day Kasumi and I both advanced, fighting other humans. Her opponent had fought well and had even been allowed to live. Ian wasn’t so fortunate. He’d been matched with Bluto and they had one hell of a fight before killing each other. Ian had managed to garrote Bluto with a tightly-wound scabbard belt. As one of Bluto’s major blood vessels began squirting pink blood, he’d stabbed Ian in the chest with a pincer. The audience had been delighted. Taking out a Glone hand-to-hand was no small accomplishment.

I sat down next to Kasumi that evening. “We need to talk a little.”

She answered in a weak voice with her head turned away. “Ian is gone.”

“In combat you grieve for a brief period and move on. Ian would want that.”

She turned to me with a heartbreaking expression on her face, but said nothing.

“I think we’ll be fighting Trixie or Slinky pretty soon. Remember, against Trixie use your speed and agility. If you can tire her out in the heat, she’ll make a mistake.”

“I know.”

“You also know Slinky is damned fast. A fight with her will be a match of your sword and reach versus her six short swords and speed. Remember, you need to ignore her if she brushes the back of your legs with her tail. That’s to trip you if you back up, or get your weapon out of position to poke at her. Most people have an innate fear of a bugs crawling on them, which is why it works.”

“I know that, too.”

A distant look came to her face. I shut up. I didn’t mention the topic that bothered me the most. Kasumi and I might have to fight each other. I hoped she realized she’d need to kill me. I’d already decided I couldn’t kill her and that I’d try to take out some guards instead. I prayed I had the courage to follow through with my intention and wouldn’t allow my survival instinct to take over if the time came.


The next afternoon I killed Tuan, one of the best human fighters. A few red slices on my arms and legs testified to his skill, but he was still the one who was dead.

The next match was Kasumi versus Slinky. They engaged in a spirited fencing match for well over a minute. Slinky would try to move in close, but Kasumi used her reach to hold off Slinky. Kasumi would try to get a sword slash in, but always just sliced air. It was a beautiful and almost choreographed ballet accompanied by brief flurries of metal clattering on metal. It all changed when Slinky pulled her signature move. Kasumi reacted by instinct and poked at Slinky’s tail. I screamed, “No,” just before Slinky moved in and put deep slices into both of Kasumi’s legs. She fell to the sand. In the time it took me to blink, Slinky was on Kasumi’s neck. I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, bright red blood spurted from Kasumi’s throat. I lowered my head and pursed my lips. But I wouldn’t just grieve for a brief period and move on. There were only four fighters left in the games; the odds were decent I’d fight Slinky next. I wanted to be certain. I asked a guard for a moment with Commandant.

Commandant was even more abrupt than usual. “What do you want?”

“I have two requests.”


“I would like to fight Slinky next. I also wish to modify a shield.”

“You want revenge?”

“I do.”

“Excellent! I grant both requests. Your combat will be the first tomorrow. Make it a good one.”

With an idea on how to tilt the odds more in my favor, I spent the night sharpening the metal on the lower edge of my shield. I realized how surreal it was to play out the plot of uncounted works of fiction, the revenge tale. But surreal or not, I was going to do it.


I glared at Slinky with the morning sun warming my back. My breathing was slow and deep. I had an intense determined expression that people in the past had called purposeful. And if my narrowed eyes had been EPPs, she’d have been burnt to a crisp.

She sprang toward me at the command to fight. After what seemed like an hour of exchanging thrusts and feints, but in reality was less than a minute, Slinky pulled her move. I was waiting for it. I dropped my spear and almost as fast as Slinky could twist, I got my hands on each side of my shield. Yelling something unintelligible and primal, I drove the shield down on her just behind her six arms using all my weight. Her blood-curdling shrieks overpowered my yelling as she split into two segments. Blood gushed from both to stain the sand a sickly purple. Her arms were still thrashing when I drew my sword and chopped her front segment into five more pieces. Her blood dripped from my sword, adding more purple splotches to the sand. Then I noticed the deafening clicking from the audience.

I nodded with satisfaction, but after a short time my victory began to feel hollow. It wasn’t as satisfying as I’d expected and I understood what uncounted millions before me realized. Nothing brought back a lost friend.

The next match was Trixie against a man named Mikhail. He was as big as Ian and the best human fighter. A knot grew in my stomach as I watched. I didn’t like my odds against either, especially the Glone. Trixie won.

Trixie and I eyeballed each other in the arena late that afternoon. My heart thumped as if I’d run a two-hundred-meter dash. I had the brief thought she might be able to hear it, but dismissed the ridiculous notion. Far more sweat than usual began rolling out of every pore of my body, even while my lips were dry. I moistened them with my tongue over and over.

Trixie moved toward me. I’d missed the command to fight. I circled and made spear thrusts she blocked with her shield. I maintained my distance; she only got a rapier arm to my shield once. I tried an underhand spear feint like an uppercut in boxing. She blocked. I followed up as fast as I could with another move, sweeping the bottom of my shield across her left leg. She let loose a bellowing yell as pink blood poured out of a shallow gash. I next had a bit of luck with an overhand thrust. My spear got past her defenses and lopped off part of her left ear. She bellowed again. For an instant I had the deluded idea I could take her. I tried to sweep my shield across her legs again, but she recognized the move in time. She dropped her shield, grabbed mine, and yanked it out of my grasp with the ease of a bulldozer pulling a sapling out of the ground. I stumbled off balance with my spear out of position and she gave me a pile-driving push. Sprawled on the ground, I tried to draw my sword, but her left foot pinned my forearm down. Shackles and a stake couldn’t have done a better job. Then one of her rapier arms pressed on my throat. I closed my eyes and listened to the furious clicking of the audience.

Trixie whispered in my ear. “I will ask the marshal to spare you if you promise to be my compliant mate for the ritual coupling. Otherwise I’ll say nothing and you can pray he lets you survive.”

I nodded, a human gesture she knew.

Trixie turned to the marshal. “I am the victor. I request this human for the ritual.”

The clicking stopped the same way noises in the jungle end when a predator is near.

The marshal said, “Why?”

“He has pleasingly soft skin and fought well.”

The marshal lifted both arms, the sign of agreement. The clicking started again and rose to a crescendo. Trixie pulled me to my feet and led me to a stall in the dorm. When she pushed me down, three Pockwattels came to watch, as witnesses I assumed. She didn’t seem to take any notice.

Trixie smelled like a camel’s ass. Then again, I guess I did to her. It didn’t seem to matter. After at least three hours on my back and stomach beneath her and on all fours in front of her, I was certain she was both male and female. I also began to wish she’d killed me. A night of sex with a rough gorilla would have been preferable. It ended when she fell asleep. I tried to forget everything by putting my hands on the sides of my head and squeezing the memories out. It didn’t work.


Trixie’s rustling woke me up. My mouth tasted as if every filthy foot on the planet had marched through it and my stiff back protested as I rolled over. I groaned and forced my eyes open. The witnesses were gone.

Trixie put her mouth next to my ear and I gritted my teeth about the prospect of pillow talk.

She said, “The Embore you call Pumpkin and I need to talk to you.”

I sat up. “Pumpkin? Why?”

Pumpkin stepped in. “We want your help to escape.”

“Isn’t what I did to Slinky a problem for you?”

“Not at all. We are all forced to do sinful deeds in the arena. Besides, she was what you call a bitch.”

“Why me?”

“You fight well, are military, and know human ships.”

“I’m listening.”

She outlined a plan and ended by asking for my thoughts.

I placed my chin on the tips of my forefingers. “How do you know when the guards are leaving for the training compound? And are you certain the compound holds only Trainer and a few personnel between batches of captives?”

“One of the guards talks to me. In return, I provide him the names of the winners of contests between Embores. We draw lots among ourselves to determine who will win. That is, all of us with the former exception of Slinky.”

“How do we know we won’t break through the wall Trixie weakens in her stall just as patrolling guards happen by?”

“I can hear animals whistling back there at night. They go silent for short periods, meaning guards are in the area.”

“Is the wildlife a problem?”


I nodded.

She placed her front hands together, the equivalent of a human nod. “So you will help?”

“Of course. Even if I don’t get off this planet, I’ll have the opportunity to kill Pockwattels, which is fine, too.”


Pumpkin had news four days later. Only seven guards would be leaving the following morning for the compound. We’d be able to overpower up to eight guards in close-quarter combat; they were archers, not hand-to-hand fighters. And one of Trixie’s sisters would instigate a major breakout as a further distraction.

Our escape went off without a hitch and we arrived at the compound before dawn, unchallenged.

Trixie pointed to the huts. “I will kill all in there now while they sleep.”

Pumpkin said, “I want Trainer.”

We split up, but both joined me again minutes later while I sorted through weapons.

We hid in the grass by the path about half a klick from the compound. Only five guards appeared.

We leapt out on the guards as they passed by. I speared one in the torso and he collapsed to the ground. His pulsing red blood looked just like mine. A glance around confirmed Pumpkin and Trixie had eliminated three others. The last guard was fumbling with his bow, but looked at us, turned, and ran. Pumpkin had no trouble catching and finishing him.

I explained my idea for taking a transport as we returned to the compound. “We’re going to rely on the fact the Pockwattels won’t talk face-to-face with the pirates. Pumpkin will hide behind the landing zone and Trixie will hide behind the kitchen hut with two dead Pockwattels. I’ll wait on the porch of Trainer’s hut. After the transport lands, I’ll meet the pirates bringing the captives out. Pumpkin will sneak into the hatch while I have everyone’s attention.”

Trixie broke in. “What will you say?”

“I was getting to that. I’ll tell the pirates that there are only two guards and they sent me out to say the captives are not wanted because of a rebellion in the city.” I clasped my hands behind my neck. “When I make this gesture, Trixie will toss the Pockwattels into the open and show herself. While everyone is concentrating on Trixie, Pumpkin will board the transport and use the manual override by the hatch to keep it from closing. I’ll eliminate the pirates around me and join her.”

Pumpkin said, “There are many uncertainties.”

I shrugged. “Sometimes you just have to be optimistic. Don’t get killed. Jump out of the transport if you need to. We can disappear into the swamp.”

Back in the compound, we stacked bales of straw to conceal Pumpkin and I explained what the manual override looked like.

We took our positions and a black, stubby transport landed within the hour. The name, Ranger, had been painted on her flanks in gold. Her cargo hatch opened and a ramp extended. Nine humans walked out followed by a single pirate. He wore jungle camouflage body armor and carried a tingler.

I approached with my hands in the air. The pirate holstered his tingler and drew his EPP, but pointed it at the ground and allowed me come right up to him. I told my story. Then the Captain came out of the ship. He had no body armor and wore his EPP in a shoulder holster. I told the story again. While he was cursing, I turned toward the kitchen hut and put my hands on the back of my neck. Trixie pitched the Pockwattels into sight and showed herself.

I pointed. “The rebels are here.”

Everyone stared at Trixie.

I spun to face the Captain again and delivered a savage punch to his throat. While his knees buckled, I grabbed his EPP. The other pirate attempted to line me up in his sights, but he was too slow. We owned Ranger thirty seconds later. There were only two other crew, and they hadn’t been expecting trouble.


Once in space, I had the almost indescribable pleasure of a shower. I determined my next move while relaxing afterward. With Ranger, I could pretend to be a pirate and wait for Anne Bonney to show up in Port Adapan. The Ochorish Realm had given the city on the planet Adapan to the pirates in return for not targeting Ochorish vessels. The city had evolved into an anything-goes pirate base and mercantile city frequented by lowlifes from all manner of species.

We left our passengers and a full report concerning Mushroom on Qadesh, the closest Alliance colony. The Alliance would have arranged for Trixie and Pumpkin to return home, but they both wanted to help me with Bonney.

Bonney’s ship docked in Port Adapan thirty-seven days after us. I’d worried about getting near her, but needn’t have. She played the flamboyant captain, spending three afternoons in a row with four of her people in a saloon named Doubloons buying drinks and drugs for the clientele.

The tasteless style of Doubloons pushed the old-Earth pirate shtick to the hilt, but I liked the place. It had only front and side doors. The side door lead to the kitchen, storerooms, and loading dock. A long L-shaped bar made of polymer resembling Earth mahogany stretched to near both doors. Nobody in a dive like it would give a squirt to help another and more of Bonney’s crew couldn’t arrive in less than a couple of minutes.

We geared up with weapons and coms and proceeded to Doubloons after Bonney arrived.

I moved unnoticed along the edges of the crowd surrounding Bonney at the bar. After I’d picked a good spot between her and the side door, I whispered, “Pumpkin, Trixie, phase one.”

Pumpkin burst through the front door carrying an EPP in each of her six hands. She screamed, “Bonney, you bitch,” and began firing high. A projector above the bar behind Bonney exploded and a decorative sailing ship spar mounted on the wall clattered down. The crowd scattered and dove to the floor. I dropped where I was.

Bonney drew her weapon and took cover around the bend in the bar. Her textbook response placed her within three meters of me.

Two of her people went for Pumpkin. One fell forward and skidded to a stop after being hit by an EPP bolt. His comrade ducked behind a table and exchanged fire with Pumpkin.

Bonney’s other two people crept toward the side door the way they’d approach a snake.

My com clicked twice. Trixie was in position.

The two reached the door and I whispered, “Trixie, phase two.”

The door blew in with a loud bang and Bonney’s people crumpled. Bonney appeared startled for an instant, but then aimed her weapon toward the door using the bar as a gun rest.

I rose to my feet and aimed my EPP at her head. “Anne, remember me from the Mira Furlan?”

She turned her head toward me. Her expression would be a cherished memory for the rest of my life. END

Lance J. Mushung is a retired aerospace engineer, formerly a contractor on the Space Shuttle. His stories have appeared in “Every Day Fiction,” “Ray Gun Revival,” “Stupefying Stories,” and other markets. He is listed in ISFDB.


hugo noms






jamie noble